Community Cats: Reducing and Stabilizing Feral Cat Populations

Although population estimates vary, free-roaming - or community - cats live in almost every neighborhood in the United States. The community cat population includes feral cats, friendly stray and abandoned cats, and owned cats let outside to roam and reproduce. According to Kim Fairbanks, a volunteer with Hands Helping Paws in Norman, Oklahoma, the terms Feral and Stray have very different meanings. Hands Helping Paws is a nonprofit incorporated organization aimed at reducing and stabilizing unwanted feral cat populations via a trap, neuter/spay and release program known as TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return). Ms. Fairbanks states, “Stray cats have been abandoned or lost after wandering away from home and can be re-socialized and adopted. Feral cats are the wild offspring of abandoned or lost domestic cats that were allowed to breed uncontrolled.”  Feral cats cannot be easily socialized or adopted into a human family, although “kittens younger than 12 weeks can be socialized.” TNR is endorsed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Best Friends Animal Society, Cat Fancier’s Association, Cornell and Tufts Universities’ Schools of Veterinary Medicine, Doris Day Animal League, the Humane Society of the United States, San Francisco SPCA, and SPAY/USA. Alley Cat Allies, “the only national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats,” considers TNR the most humane and effective approach for the management of feral cats.
After neutering, feral cats are left-ear-tipped, the universal symbol of a neutered and vaccinated cat. © 2013 Lyann Valadez

After neutering, feral cats are left-ear-tipped, the universal symbol of a neutered and vaccinated cat.
© 2013 Lyann Valadez

Feral cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and returned to their outdoor home. Socialized cats and kittens are adopted into homes. The population of feral colonies stabilizes with no more kittens. According to the Humane Society of the United States, a pair of breeding cats and their kittens can produce over 400,000 cats in seven years. By spaying  one feral cat, the potential population of feral cats or stray cats can be reduced by 250,000 animals. TNR programs are the best way to control feral cat populations because an established colony keeps out cats from other areas. Cats that are sterilized, fed and watered protect their territory and, most importantly, do not breed. FeralCatInfographic

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